Episode #25 - We're Being Hacked By Tech Companies

Episode #25 – We’re Being Hacked by Tech Companies

We’ve made it to 25 episodes, well on our way to our target of 100! To celebrate, we’re talking about one of the most fundamental issues facing our society, how humans get hacked by technology companies and why that matters. It’s a conversation that follows on from Episode #22 – Always Connected, but this time, we dive deeper into how these technology companies actually grab and maintain our attention, why that impacts the direction society takes, and how do we fight against it. We’re talking about societal-wide manipulation of the human psyche, resulting in unintentional changes within our personal lives that goes against what we think we are actually looking for.


Key Message: We can’t win the fight against a supercomputer every time, but we can become more conscious of our own vulnerabilities to mitigate their influence


A summary of our conversational pathway:

  • Definition of The Hackable Animal

  • How technology companies hack our subconscious

  • Why is this a bad thing for me?

  • What this means for society in general

  • What can we do for society to ensure we head in the right direction

  • What can we do in our personal lives to better take control

Most recent conversations about the future focus on the point where technology surpasses human capability…But they overlook a much earlier point where technology exceeds human vulnerabilities.


How to Hack a Human:

Biological Understanding x Computational Power x Data = A Hackable Human


How do they hack us at an attention grabbing level:

  • Autoplay

  • Notification pop ups & sounds

  • Snapstreaks

  • Leadership boards

  • the whole system of notifications and alerts that induce feelings of reward, isolation, and social cohesion.

  • Gamification 

  • According to research from mobile analytics firm Urban Airship, sending out weekly push notifications can double user retention on iOS devices and have 6-fold increase on Android devices. 

  • Swipe down refresh mimics slot machines

  • Intentional delays in the app loading build anticipation. What are you going to get? Something interesting? Sometimes, sometimes not. 

  • Memories feature

  • Convenience (allowing you to sign into other apps using log-in details from another)


Why this level of technological manipulation is a problem:

  • Digital addiction

  • Mental health

  • Breakdown of truth

  • Polarization

  • Political manipulation

  • Superficiality


Technology is evolving more rapidly than we are biologically able to keep up with. It’s why we aren’t good at staying focused when we have the power of the internet and all the distractions that brings, right in our pocket. It’s why these technology companies have been so easily able to keep our attention. It’s hard to predict the future as the faster we innovate, the faster we change, the harder it is to know where we’re heading as a society. Humans also aren’t great at looking long term. Individuals might be able to, but institutions have traditionally been very short-sighted, and ignorant of the consequences of their decisions.


What we can do on a personal level:

  • Understanding that this is actually happening is the first, most important step. It’s why conversations such as the one we’re having now, and the ones that Tristan and Yuval are having are so critical. 

  • Take the time to figure out your own biases, your emotions and thought processes. Whether through meditation, journaling, chilling by the pool just having a think. The pandemic has given people the opportunity to slow down, where life isn’t always just busy, so now is better than ever, to take a deep dive into your own psyche

  • Recognize that you aren’t going to win the battle against technology every time. The playing field isn’t even remotely level, you’re going to war against a supercomputer created by the smartest minds in the world

  • Direct from the Centre for Humane Technology “The movement that ends Human Downgrading won’t be built on hashtags—it will be built on meaningful human relationships. We at CHT are building those relationships as quickly and meaningfully as we can, but don’t wait for us. Talk to people about the way that human downgrading shows up in your work, your families, and in the communities you care about. Share the tools and strategies that help you to resist it. Together we can change the way technology is built.”


What can we do as a society to shift away from our current trajectory towards one that values our time and interaction with technology responsibly?

  • Re-evaluate our reliance on the profit motive driven through advertising

  • Spread the power of these technology companies and organizations across as many points as possible

  • Focus on education and emotional intelligence

  • Shift the focus of technology from pushing something onto us, to helping us serve whatever need we have

  • Instead of obsessing over engagement, focus instead on values

  • More technology is not always the answer

  • Instead of focusing on speed, slow down and take the time to really consider the consequences of your actions

  • As the world becomes increasingly complex and unpredictable, our capacity to understand our emerging reality and make meaningful choices can quickly become overwhelmed. As a technologist, you can help people make choices in ways that are informed, thoughtful, and aligned with their values as well as the fragile social and environmental systems they inhabit.

Further Reading/Watching:


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